2008 was a highly publicized election year in the United States and having presented namesake Cattleya hybrids to the last three First Ladies, we were under considerable pressure to repeat our feat. Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush all had their orchids. Could we go four in a row? The answer came in early August when the leading candidate’s wife, Michelle Obama, was campaigning in Virginia. Though not yet First Lady, she was the odds-on favorite so we took a chance.
We were given a two minute photo opportunity during a reception at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk where Mrs. Obama was to address a crowd of 1,200 supporters. Other guests included Virginia Governor Tim Kaine who had presented Queen Elizabeth II with her namesake orchid on our behalf in 2007. The music for the evening was provided by local singer/songwriter and Grammy award winner Bruce Hornsby.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the compact growing Lc Michelle Obama (C trianaei x Lc Mini Purple) which was displayed as a grouping of five plants in a fancy decorative container. With the addition of accoutrements curly willow and Spanish moss, the floral arrangement was threatening to upstage the politicians!
Just moments before the presentation was to take place, however, the secret service intervened, “The arrangement can not be in the picture!”
“Excuse me?”, I asked in complete disbelief.
“I’m sorry, but rules are rules” said the agent.
“But sir, we have been invited here for this purpose”, I tried to gently explain as my blood pressure started rising.
“Well, we haven’t scanned the object with our bomb detecting equipment.” said the agent.
“OK, no problem. I’ll just stand over here and you take as long as you need to scan it” I said confidently.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the equipment here” he said sheepishly.
After a long silence in which I envisioned the entire presentation evaporating before my eyes, I said in desperation, “Can I pick off the flowers and present them?”
There was a big huddle of secret service agents using hand held radios. The answer, “You can present one flower”.
One flower?” I asked in greater disbelief.
“OK, two. But that’s it.” said the agent having reached a generous compromise.
I carefully removed two of the small flowers from the formerly glorious arrangement and together with the framed RHS certificate approached Mrs. Obama. She was most curious at my offerings as it wasn’t exactly apparent what I held. I wasn’t even sure.
I was a little embarrassed and wanted to explain to her what had happened but, given the time constraint, opted for enthusiastically declaring that the flowers were named for her. She was very excited and gave me a big hug. Wow, I wasn’t aware that First Lady etiquette allows for such affection!
Now that the election is over, I’m glad that we took a chance on Michelle Obama. She is officially First Lady on January 20th and her social calendar is already overflowing with invitations to appear. My father, A.A. Chadwick, once told me, ‘Never mix business with politics.’ Orchids, however, transcend conventional boundaries and with four successive presidential administrations securely in the history books, the legacy of Classic Cattleyas will continue.